Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I have to get my hair done

and I'm afraid.

There are a million and ten little annoying things about living in a country where you really have no firm grasp of the language. It really makes it very difficult to do all the little things that one takes for granted everywhere else. You should have seen the agonies I went through a few weeks ago trying to ask for a box of wooden matches at the corner supermercato. It ends up making you realise just how much in life you don't really need and how long you can make do with not having things you used to think essential.

The language problem is compounded by the daily difficulties of an English upbringing, where you would rather die than call too much attention to yourself, clashing with the Italian national character. Trust me, they don't know what to do English diffidence in Italy.

Well, why don't you just look it up? I can hear you say.

Ah yes. Why not indeed.

Imagine trying to buy some obscure sewing notion in a sewing supply shop, for example. I mean, how do you even go about looking up iron-on pellon interfacing in a standard Collins Gem Italian/English dictionary? You go to the shop, you look forlornly around for a few minutes while the Italian shop ladies, already naturally suspicious and generally hostile, eye you malevolently. At last, you make a desperate grab for something you don't need just to avoid giving the impression that you are casing the joint and pay and flee with your jumbo coat zipper and packet of sequins, vowing to just pop over to Liverpool as soon as the price of Ryan Air flights go down in the autumn.

I got my hair done, quite wonderfully, by Libby the lady who does all the older ladies in Tattenhall. We discussed all sorts of things, including the terrors of being a grownup and trying to get your hair done by a trendy twenty-something who can't imagine why you wouldn't want to look like a teenager. (Yes, the time before Libby, I allowed someone trendy to do it, and she flattened me with some kind of flattening iron because all the teenage girls think that looking like a haystack caught in a downpour is the height of chic). Libby also knew exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to look like Diana Rigg in the Avengers, ("Well, who wouldn't?") and we had a jolly time talking about how mad the world was becoming.

I came to Italy a few weeks after that and have tried to make my Libbby/Diana Rigg hair do last, but it is hopeless now. I look very charmingly like an 18th century peasant girl in some bucolic Ford Madox Brown painting. Not at all like a sophisticated black cat-suited Diana Rigg. Nor, at this point, can I even manage anything like someone from a Jane Austen film by piling it up and pinning it in place. It all comes apart and hangs in little annoying drifts around my face.

So the time has come. I have to face it.

How do I say in Italian, "I want to look like Diana Rigg in the Avengers"? And how do I say "Dear God, please don't make me look Italian!" without giving offense?